You Shall Be Perfect, Just as Your Father in Heaven Is Perfect!
Dear Lord Jesus, You have called me to be Your disciple and assured me that as I abide in Your word, You will reveal Your truths to me. You have promised me that Your truths will set me free. O Lord, I am here today both to hear and learn from Your word. Enlighten my mind with instruction from Your truths. Fill my heart with a desire to live in accordance with those truths, so that I might experience freedom from guilt, fear, and the control of Satan. Help me always to be faithful until the day in which You call me home. It is in Your name that I pray.
God’s word-a combination of His law and gospel-reveal His truths to us, so that we might be cleansed, informed, and enriched. Let us seek our God and His word, for thereby and therein we will be blessed!
God’s law reflects His immutable (unchanging) will for mankind. God places a natural knowledge of that law in every person’s heart. God provided a written revelation of that law to Old Testament Israel through Moses. All of mankind one day will stand before God in judgment on the basis of that law.
Text: Matthew 5:48
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect!”
In Christ Jesus, whose word guides and enables us, dear fellow redeemed:
We are living in what many call the “post-modern” era. The key feature of the “post-modern” era is its rejection of the concept of absolute truth. The post-modern view is that there is only relative truth! Relative truth means that something may be true for me, but not necessarily true for you; or something may be true for you, but not necessarily true for me. Something may be true now, but it may not be true next week or next year. All truth, therefore, according to the post-modernist, is always changing depending on the people and the circumstances involved.
While it is proper to speak of some truth as being relative—for instance: “the horse is our primary form of transportation” would have been true of our ancestors, but is certainly not true for us—to claim that all truth is relative and that there is no such thing as absolute truth is contrary to reason, common sense, and Biblical revelation! For instance, the laws of nature established by God at the time of creation govern our physical lives. It is because those laws are consistent and absolute that we are able to do scientific research and make scientific discoveries. The law of gravity is always in effect within our material universe wherever it applies.
Just as God has created the laws of nature to govern our physical lives, so He has given us absolutes to govern our moral lives. There are some things morally that are absolutely right, while there are some things that are absolutely wrong. God reveals these moral absolutes through His law as recorded in His word. Paul writes, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, of reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is this Biblical claim of absolute truth that the post-modernists reject. They do not want to be governed by anyone else’s morality, not even God’s! They want to be free to do whatever they wish.
What does any of this have to do with us? We do not have to be post-modernists to fall into a post-modern pattern of thinking or living. Many people, who have never heard of post-modernism, do not want to be governed by anyone else’s morality. Many people, even people who claim to be believers, live in such a way that they reveal their desire to be free to do whatever they wish, in spite of what God says. That attitude is dangerous and that attitude can affect and infect us. It is important that we recognize that we are subject to God’s will and that He has revealed His will to us in the Bible. Let us, therefore, consider God’s will for us today by considering what Jesus means when He tells us: YOU SHALL BE PERFECT JUST AS YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN IS PERFECT!
First of all, we should note that God has established a set standard of morality—perfect love!Our text comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. As He taught the people on that mountain side He told them, “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect!” God’s law demands perfection—a perfection illustrated by our heavenly Father Himself. As God is perfect, so we are to be perfect! That is impossible, and consequently we could easily conclude that we might as well give up before we even get started, but that was not what Jesus intends us to do when He establishes for us a standard of perfect love. Rather, Jesus wants us to understand the true nature of His will and law, so that we might fully comprehend what He has done for us as our Savior and the nature of the life He would have us lead as His children.
Consider, after all, the setting of the words of our text. Earlier in His sermon Jesus made what was no doubt to many ears an astounding statement: “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). How could anyone’s righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? After all, they dedicated their lives to fulfilling the laws of God and countless laws of men. They expanded the Ten Commandments into 613 commandments! But the scribes and the Pharisees had taken God’s law, which speaks to the heart and character of man, and externalized it. They were all about the disciplined control of outward actions, but their hearts were not touched by the perfect love of God. Consequently, their actions, while in outward conformity to their own established traditions, were in reality directly opposed to the spirit that God’s law embraced.
You only need to consider the treatment of the Sabbath law by the scribes and Pharisees to understand this. They took the Old Testament Sabbath command to rest and developed well over 1,400 restrictions on work, including the one with which they condemned Jesus regularly—no unnecessary healing on the Sabbath. Yet, remember how Jesus responded when they condemned such healings. He asked them whether or not they would free a sheep from a pit into which it had fallen on the Sabbath. The answer, as everyone knew, was "yes," for they would not want to risk losing a valuable animal. Jesus responded by pointing to the heart of the law: “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath!” (Matthew 12:12)
God’s standard of morality is perfect love, which speaks to our hearts, which in turn guides our character, which in turn determines our actions. Consequently, as Jesus elaborates He tells us that murder is not just taking someone’s life, but also embittering their lives with unkind words. He points out that adultery goes beyond the physical action, but goes to the mind and heart which reveal through their lust less than a loving attitude. He urges us to say only those things we mean and not to take unnecessary and useless oaths. He urges us not just to love our friends and neighbors, but also our enemies. The understanding that God has established a set standard of morality—perfect love, opens our eyes to the full range of God’s expectations regarding our lives. While that understanding leads us to see our own utter failure to comply with God’s standard, it also helps us to understand that…
God alone meets the standard! “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). We do not do that well, do we? Oh, yes, we may turn the other cheek (cf. Matthew 5:39) once in a while, but we certainly do not do it all the time. Yet, God does love His enemies, and Jesus illustrates it in the verses immediately preceding our text. He points out that God “makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). This morning we woke up to rain after several very hot and dry days. Did the rain fall only on the lawns and fields of those who are truly godly? No, it did not, and its beneficial effects will be felt by everyone.
Let us not be mistaken—God’s perfect love does not mean that the wicked and ungodly will escape their ultimate judgment. God is both perfectly loving and perfectly just. Love and justice do not contradict each other, for both are attributes of God. Yet, God provides the perfect illustration of divine love, and no where is that more evident than in the actions of Jesus as He approached and endured the agony of the cross. When He was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, He attempted to reach out to Judas in love, seeking to awaken his conscience with the question, “Friend, why have you come?” (Matthew 26:50). As He hung on the cross, enduring the searing pain and the stings of blasphemous insults, He prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). He instructed the thief on His right and so prepared him for heaven. He provided for the future needs of His mother by entrusting her to John. He carefully fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies, before announcing that He had completed the work of redemption for every human soul. Here we see Jesus meeting the standard of perfect love required by the law of God, and this He did for a very special reason. He did it in order to save us!
As the gospel message proclaims: God gives us perfection and enables us to love! The apostle Paul informs us in his epistle to the Romans: “As through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (5:18-19). Jesus was that one Man who was righteous, and God gives us His perfection as we are led by the Spirit of God to believe in Him as our Savior from sin. When Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), just before He died on the cross, He was indicating that everything necessary for our salvation was complete. He had gained our righteousness through His perfect life, and He had endured the punishment we deserve in view of our sin. In Him we find forgiveness; in Him we find the righteousness we need to stand before God; in Him we find then the strength that enables us to love as God would have us love.
Think about the words of the apostle: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). As we place our faith in Christ, and as His love fills our hearts, He fills us with a desire to live as He lived and to love as He loved. Is it always easy? Of course not! This world is filled with sin, and the Lord warns us that we will often be treated by the world in the same way that He was treated. That should not surprise us. Jesus, after all, said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master…. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household” (Matthew 10:24, 25b). Yet, with the help of Jesus and bearing in mind His perfect love for us, we are to strive to love others even as He has loved us. The apostle Paul encourages us in his epistle to the Ephesians: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32).
We are living in an era many describe as “post-modern.” It would seem that a majority of people want to be free to do whatever they want, irrespective of the truths of God. Jesus tells us: YOU SHALL BE PERFECT, JUST AS YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN IS PERFECT! Let us recognize that God has established a set standard of morality, and that set standard is perfect love. Let us recognize as well that God alone meets the standard, but let us rejoice that God gives us perfection and enables us so to love! My dear friends, let us not run away from the absolute truths of God! Let us not substitute for them our own relative truths! Rather, let us embrace God’s word and gladly hear and learn it! Therein, we will be blessed! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting